Monday, 30 November 2009

The Nasties Review: The Boogey Man

Nasties Review: Ulli Lomell's The Boogey Man

Hello and welcome back to the Nasties Review. This episode the scum of the movie world steps through the looking glass with a nightmare for the vain. The bad guys a mirror and the good guys are farmers....enough said.
Uli Lomells The Boogey Man.

Willy and Lacey's negligent mother and her abusive boyfriend put the kids to bed so they can indulge in a bit of uninterrupted kinkyness. After tying Willy to his bed Lacey frees him only for Jake to take the knife and head off for a spot of revenge and Lacey sees him murder the boyfriend via a mirror.
Fast forward (20 years) and Jake is mute and they have both been moved out into a farm in the country. Lacey is still trying to deal with the trauma and as part of her 'therapy' her husband Jake takes her to the scene of the crime where she comes face to face with the mirror again. After having a vision and smashing the mirror Jake takes the remaining pieces of it home to rebuild it for her to see that all is OK. Unfortunately the mirror contains the evil of the murderous act and anyone who is touched by the reflection of any part of it is controlled or killed by it. The question is can they destroy the remaining mirror before it destroys them?

The first of two entries into the DPP list by Ulli Lommell, well kinda two but we'll leave that to the review for the other one, Boogey Man has a story that requires you to take an awful lot for granted. The opening sets the scene, with the mothers boyfriend indulging in some inappropriate child care techniques and apparently this has been happening for some time which does beg the question as to why they allowed themselves to be caught snooping if they knew the consequences. So Willy exacts his revenge by stabbing the bestockinged bad guy and then we find ourselves 20 years or so later where the kids are now adults, Lacey is still traumatised and willy is mute.
The cliché continues when Lacey is dragged back to the murder house by her husband in order to make her face her fears, upon seeing the most annoying child on the planet and then the mirror that she witnessed the crime in she sets about it with the nearest available furniture to destroy the vision she seems to be having. Obviously feeling that this emotional meltdown wasn't enough, Jake takes all the pieces and reconstructs the mirror at her current home.

So up to this point here's a list of some of the stuff we must blindly accept. We're 40 minutes in and we have to accept that the kids are so stupid that they don't know NOT to piss off mummies special bed time friend despite his previous record of child restraint and that as adults they are living the trauma cliché surround by pop psychologists who appear hell bent on deepening said trauma. To top this off Willy is quite insane but still they allow him to horde knives and somehow he avoids being hauled away to the hotel with padded walls and dressing gowns with over size rear securing arms after half throttling a girl who wanted to have sex with him. Lacey is deeply disturbed by what she saw although she did seem quite casual about the murder at the time, she is also seemingly possessed and the evil happenings only seem to happen because of her presence, the mirror had happily sat there for 20 years without incident until she came along then bang she breaks the mirror and the evil is released....of course she was already showing signs of supernatural possession or something like it so is it her or the mirror that's to blame....

There is very little coherence in the narrative and the second you start to think about what's happening it all becomes rather shaky to say the least. The main characters are generally likeable with the exception of Willy who is actually a psychopath who just happens to have killed a bad guy.
[insert willy with knives and strangling footage] and of course there's most of the peripheral characters who are there to serve little purpose other than to provide on screen carnage fodder.

Thankfully though the pacing is reasonable and the film delivers the goods when it absolutely needs to although it has to be said that for the most part, the goriest moments happen to people we neither really know and certainly do not care about. However this is not always a bad thing

But for the most part this is all a meaningless diversion from the actual story and the more you look at how the film is put together, the more you realise that the gore scenes are lazy in structure and purpose. The violence is not weaved into the actual story, it's committed upon strangers because it's easier to do the deed and drop it then it is to make it a credible and sustainable element of the story involving the main cast. That would of course require a more robust story that would have to contain and sustain the outrageous happenings rather than have them as a side show.

Boogeyman is however competently shot, the film looks nice enough and the gore effects are very effective for a film that wouldn't have commanded a massive budget also the deaths are fairly imaginative. The idea isn't massively original but I can happily let that go even when it blatantly 'uh hum' pays homage to some classic horror films.

Not that this is particularly important in terms of borrowing from the classics many films do, but the only problem is it throws in some conflicting messages as to what is actually happening. The various borrows Lomell makes make no sense in terms of what's going on in this story and in a film that already has trouble with its lack of narrative focus and coherence that is not at all helpful. It does just feel that these elements were put in purely for the show, and frankly this is mostly what this film is.

Overall Boogeyman is an okay film but even at it's best it's no more than that. It just doesn't bear close or even mild scrutiny and there is no depth to the thin story as it labours to deliver the gore at regular intervals.
I'm going to give Boogeyman 4 zombie fingers, while it is a rather empty, nonsensical waste of script paper, the writing is truly amongst some of the laziest and inept examples I've seen before. However it looks fairly good, the effects are pretty reasonable and the performances are fairly decent. It's just a shame that the diabolically flawed story humiliates itself so badly in public.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Zombies; Dead/Alive...Fast/Slow...Metaphor/Monster.

Zombies are a contentious creature in the horror world, from the definition of what a zombie is through to the physical capabilities and behaviour of the often semi rotten, life challenged humanoid. Having now made a couple of videos exploring the fast/slow zombie debate I felt a more detailed look at the subject may be interesting.

My own opinion is that I find the slow zombie to be more interesting and I will explain why later in this blog, First of all it may be helpful to first talk about the zombie and what it is.

Part 1: Zombies: A definition (Do they need to be dead?).

Wikipedia defines a zombie as such
‘A zombie is a creature that appears in folklore and popular culture typically as a reanimated corpse or a mindless human being. Stories of zombies originated in the Afro-Caribbean spiritual belief system of Vodou, which told of the people being controlled as laborers by a powerful sorcerer.’ as this

zombie, zombi [ˈzɒmbɪ]
n pl -bies, -bis
1. a person who is or appears to be lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment; automaton
2. (Spirituality, New Age, Astrology & Self-help / Alternative Belief Systems) a supernatural spirit that reanimates a dead body
3. (Spirituality, New Age, Astrology & Self-help / Alternative Belief Systems) a corpse brought to life in this manner

The reason to show these two definitions is to clarify one major point in particular... Zombies are not necessarily just reanimated corpses. This is just to get past the whole ‘they’re just infected, they’re not zombies’ argument when it comes to comparative studies of the fast and slow zombie. The fact that some films do not define their creatures as zombies is also irrelevant as with that argument even George Romero’s monsters in his début feature Night of the Living Dead would not qualify. As far as Romero was concerned at the time they were ‘ghouls’ and the Z word is not mentioned in the film.

Even if we take the examples from movies that specifically define the creatures as zombies, we find a wide range of examples from the fast reanimates of Return of the Living Dead, to the lumbering corpses of Romero and Fulci, through to the very much alive victims of ritual zombification in Wes Cravens The Serpent and the Rainbow so from this we can see that the definition is not restricted to reanimated corpses and does not require an explicit identification of the creature in the movie.

It is as much an aesthetic judgement that allows me to call ‘The Infected’ in the film 28 Days Later as it is specific definition. Rabid they may literally be but overall symptoms; infection method and behaviour are in line with the common view of Zombies (at least those of the horror genre).
So definition out of the way lets proceed...

Part 2: Metaphor or Monster? (The function of the Zombie in a movie)

So now we have a rough definition of what could constitute a zombie (and I am aware it is a rough definition) now we can hopefully move along without having to argue about whether or not 28 Days Later, which will be my primary but not exclusive example, is a zombie film. They certainly fit enough of the defining qualities of a zombie to qualify as such.

The fast/slow zombie argument is one dominated by the question ‘Which is the scariest?’ Now I am prepared to cede the point that the fast zombie is indeed a more daunting prospect in terms of its ability to kill you. They are shockingly fast and brutal (and even able to run along ceilings in one particularly poor remake) and will, as I mentioned in my first video about the subject, ‘chase you down faster than Asafa Powell with a JATO rocket up his jacksie’. This is fine and well but when all is said and done the general attitude of the film maker, once they have employed the fast zombie, is to let it do the work it does best, to scare the viewer. Unfortunately it tends to be, at least in my own opinion, a very shallow quality, the (occasionally slightly more sophisticated) equivalent of sneaking up behind someone and shouting BANG!

The problem as I see it is that due to the nature of the fast zombie, with the threat being much more immediate, there is little time for the human protagonists to exist with this problem and they can only react in a limited number of ways. In the Dawn of the Dead remake the zombies were of the fast variety and the action was piled on in spades in a series of attacks that the protagonists barely escape from....However. As soon as it becomes important for the human story to take place it is very noticeable how slow the zombies become. In 28 days later it's also noticeable how the story only really develops when the zombies are absent, even in Return of the Living Dead the interactions with the zombies are limited to the slower or incapacitated ones.

The absence or slowing down of the zombies is when things can happen on a narrative level, the threat needs the chance to be a latent rather than a immediate one in order for us to see how the protagonists react. This was very noticeable in the 1981 BBC TV series that inspired 28 Days Later, The Day of the Triffids. In This series the Triffids were surprisingly absent most of the time and the Triffid problem was something that happens mostly in the background, it's the identifiable threat to humanity but it is not the most problematic compared to the man made problems. This is true of the best 'slow zombie' films, for instance.
In Romero's Night of the living Dead the zombie threat is always in the background, a catalyst for the situation that the protagonists find themselves in. Harry and Ben's conflict is the thing that brings them down in the end, their petty power plays and squabbling distract them from the problem at hand and although the zombies are the instrument of their demise (with the exception of Ben who is treated to an altogether more shocking and more resonant death) the zombies are not the reason they die. Again this is true in both Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985), the problem is getting worse and the threat is more obvious but still the characters live in a world that is not only isolated by the physical nature of the place, the mall or the bunker, but in terms of their attention. George A Romero, in commenting on the nature of his 4th instalment in the 'Dead' series stated that the theme was one of 'Ignoring the problem'

Initially it was about ignoring the problem, ignoring social ills like homelessness and AIDS and just telling people, "Don’t worry about it, that’s their problem" and I think this is more impactful.

Like the new one that I'm doing I've been pitching it, saying, "Well it's about people ignoring the problem". You know, in a post-9/11 [world]. And nobody gets it.

This theme, although Romero only applied it to Land of the Dead is a common theme throughout the series, the point being that the narrative is not actually about the zombies, it's about the people involved in the story, their reactions and interactions, the zombie represents the bigger picture of which mankind has a seemingly unerring ability to not see. To a greater or lesser degree throughout the slow zombie world this is true.

Part 3: Fast or Slow?

The one thing I wish to get away from in this exploration of the subject is 'which is the best', although it is obvious that I have a preference. The main aim here is to identify what is the purpose and function of each example. It seems fair to acknowledge these in the following way...

The fast zombie... Useful for scaring the bejesus out of the audience. Its viciousness and speed make it such a truly terrifying prospect that you'd better get your shit together PDQ because you haven't got time for mistakes.

The slow zombie... The leisure time you have between meeting these rotten puss bags is your worst enemy. While you spend you time in your little world the slow zombie and his buddies are quietly gathering and finding your weaknesses. If only you'd spent as much time dealing with the wider problem instead of being so involved with trivial matters such as who's in charge you may have avoided finding yourself surrounded by a flesh eating army of shambling (seemingly) life challenged folk.

The point is they both have very different functions, the fast to be a monster, the slow to be a metaphor or device by which we can test the protagonists. Neither is best because they do such different things, but in my opinion the slow is the one with the most chance to further the story beyond the scare and that's something I want from a film.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Perils of YouTube, The DMCA, and The DPP List

As an avid viewer/reviewer of horror films and one who publishes video reviews online, mostly, but not exclusively on YouTube, one finds one’s self at loggerhead with a number of issues.

Firstly the main problem an amateur reviewer can face is the DMCA and the lengths that certain sites go to to avoid the risk of being sued. I understand this, if I were YouTube I honestly don't know how the problem can realistically be addressed. Why? Well the problem is the legislation that is the DMCA. It requires any host site to take down any material that a DMCA is filed against. Sounds fair? Well it’s not as clear-cut as that.....

The initial problem here is that the DMCA can be abused by the automation that allows claimants to register their copyright notice against a particular video. YouTube for instance has a very easy way to flag copyrighted material, it takes a few seconds to do and requires nothing more than a claim from a user (in the guise of their account) in order to cause the 'offending' video to be withdrawn. The only response a recipient of a DMCA has is to file a counter notice only to do so requires the submission of personal details such as contact information. All this is very well but the original claimant does NOT have to do the same in the initial claim.

So the victim here has a choice....either allow the claimed against video to remain withdrawn (effectively censored by the potentially false DMCA) or counter notice it and give out his/her personal details to a stranger who does not have to do the same. This obviously has certain personal security issues when the claimant quite often has a personal grudge against the target of the DMCA notice. So what we have is a one sided bludgeon for trolls to use against the vlogger. Not helpful.

Then we have the automation of copyright detection. This I have personally been a victim of. This works as such. Fox goes to YouTube and supplies (what I suspect is) a soundtrack to the movie/album etc. YouTube takes this and puts it in its data base and checks all uploaded video’s against it to see if copyrighted material is contained in the video....

Again this sounds fine on paper, however the system cannot detect if the material is being used in context of the ‘Fair Use’ clause which allows for copyrighted material to be used in certain circumstances....i.e. a review. So anyone putting together a professional style video based movie review, containing footage and clips from the movie, can quickly find themselves up against instant decisions by YouTube to not publish the video because they have detected copyright material within it. Not exactly conducive to free speech or the Fair Use clause.

Now if the rumblings are right and the US government are going to cede more ground to the digital copyright Nazi’s in the big distribution companies (Fox, Sony, Paramount etc) by putting the thumbscrews on host sites etc then were seem to looking at a bleak future for the internet and user produced content as every host site will simply not allow anything that has the vaguest sniff of copyrighted material no matter what the context or purpose of that material is.

After all, how can a successful behemoth like YouTube actually police its content without arbitrary copyright bots automatically doing that substantial task?

Quite aside from the minefield that is the copyright saga there is then the subject matter...In my case, horror, the DPP list more specifically.

In particular, but certainly not uniquely, YouTube and other host sites (Metacafe, Dailymotion etc) have some form of ‘decency’ panel whether that is the users and a flagging system or a upload review panel who accept or reject seemingly on a very arbitrary and personal level. While this is fine and well, certainly a panel is preferable to an automatic system or especially to the whim of a troll who doesn’t like what you had to say about his favourite movie, you now not only have to navigate the grey area of fair use and copyright you have to deal with the tastes of strangers who can make your video ‘go away’ without so much as a right to reply. When one is dealing with a subject that has many areas that are antagonistic towards people’s sensibilities, then how can we approach them without being simply countered with a single mouse click on a flagging button? When the largest site of user generated content does not even allow you to classify your work for a certain audience then the content that is allowed can only end up suffering as little Suzy stumbles upon the foul mouthed Amazing Atheist or the equally foul mouthed Cynical Celluloid (aka lampyman101) telling you about how fucking awful this piece of crap nazisplotation film is.

What I’m trying to get at here is that the odds of your work surviving is becoming ever shorter due to the multiple booby traps of commercial bullying, troll tantrums, uninformed moralistic flaggers and the lack of understanding from the host site about the subject you are talking about and the audience you are talking to. Given that the internet is possibly the single most important invention in the history of mankind in terms of mass communication, it’s important to defend ‘fair use’ and freedom of speech and resist those who seek to limit it.

Film companies are NOT going out of business due to piracy, the music industry has survived Napster AND the advent of torrenting, software companies have always had to deal with piracy but are still being set up and thrive despite this and a 10 minute video movie review has never superseded the film itself.

It may seem a disparate selection of subjects to lump into one blog, and I agree to a great extent but all these things are linked by a common theme of our ability to make commentaries on contemporary culture apart from anything else. Times have moved on and parody, commentary and reportage are now in the hands of the common person and require more modern presentation, but the stifling forces of an industry that refuses to alter its business model means we have to resist the retardation of creativity whilst simultaneously looking to accommodate the rights of the creative forces. There has to be a common ground, and industry alone cannot be allowed to define that unilaterally.